My passion for improving the future health of the population

Rebecca Smyth
Written by Rebecca Smyth

From an unknown career path, to wanting to make a difference in public health.

When I was younger, I was often asked the question ‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’. Nearly everyone is asked this question at some point in their life and like a large proportion of the population, I never knew exactly what I wanted my career path to look like. At one time I wanted to run an Open Farm with my cousin and convert one of our old barns into a petting zoo. I also wanted to continue playing the piano and flute professionally but was never really the child who could just sit down and play any song perfectly first or second time around – like most things in life, it took practice to get to a reasonable level.

Throughout my teenage years, I took a liking to Home Economics in school – especially the lessons where we learnt about the different vitamins and minerals and their functions in the body. I always enjoyed these lessons more than the practical cooking ones – I guess I was just fascinated by how different micronutrients come with their own benefits to our body. I studied Home Economics at GCSE (where I achieved a good grade) and A-Level (where I didn’t achieve as good a grade as I would have liked). It soon came to the stage of choosing what course I wanted to study at University, and here I was faced with that same question again – what do I want work as when I graduate from University? I applied to a variety of courses as I was still unsure, including Archaeology, Environmental Science and History and eventually accepted an offer to study Environmental Science. However, when the time came I was not ready to start University straight after leaving school – it was too big a leap all at once – so I took a gap year where I worked and travelled.

Food and NutritionThe following September, I decided to give University another try as I felt more mature within myself. I talked to my mum about what I should study, and she suggested I studied Nutrition as there was a good range of job prospects within this area. I studied Food and Nutrition for four years and it was the most rewarding 4 years of my life. I learnt so many new skills including how to take dietary assessment measurements, how to use a pipette and how to work out the correct calorie intake for an individual. I spent a year on placement with a local health promotion department where I helped deliver nutrition training programmes, run health promotion stands and carry out dietary audits on the hospital wards. There were days where I struggled with the workload, there were many late nights writing my dissertation and many days where we couldn’t get members of the public involved with our stands. But I kept my head down and managed to graduate with a First-Class Honours in Food and Nutrition and have now decided to continue studying a Masters in Health Promotion & Public Health. I have also been helping Professor Dr Melania A. Duca-Canavan (Head of the International Biocentric Psychoanalysis Institute, MC International Events Planning Limited) who has given me the opportunity to work alongside athletes (e.g. equestrians) to help them adopt an integrative approach to finding health solutions, which has given me an insight into the different methods which can be applied to make a difference to our health.

I am so thankful that I took a year out (although at the time it was difficult as all my friends were Freshers and were out enjoying themselves while I worked), as it gave me the opportunity to find myself, to take a step back from everything and analyse what I wanted to do in life. Through my course, I have learnt about the implications of diet and lifestyle on the health of the population over the coming years, and I have now realised that I want to make a difference to the population health status. I want to help imply the new nutrition and health guidelines which are released to see a difference in the world – even a small step can help make a large impact. We just have to watch the news or look on the internet to see the impact that obesity, portion sizes or sugar for example can have on our health. This is an area I am very passionate about and I will soon be ready to help put the theory into practice with regards to improving public health.

Sometimes all we need is another person’s opinion on something which will help steer us in the right direction. I feel it is important to remember that even if we are unsure of where we want to be in a few years’ time, things will fall into place eventually and we will realise that it is worth waiting for in the end.